On September 13, 2015, I woke up to headlines about the Egyptian Army bombing a group of Mexican tourists in the desert. It wasn’t until the next morning that I discovered that one of the people who were killed was a very dear friend of mine. His name was Rafael Bejarano, an incredible healer. A shaman. A musician. That a random, bizarre incident in the Egyptian desert could intimately and deeply affect my life was once again a reminder of how interconnected our lives are.
And so it is with the work that we do to end violence in New York City and around the world. Our lives, no matter where we are, are intimately interconnected. The local is global and the global is local. The cultural norm of violence against women is universal. We might have different variations on the theme, but at its fundamental core it is really the outcome of a patriarchal world order that we deal with over and over again.
You might be wondering why I’m sharing Rafael’s death as an example of the interconnectedness of violence against women. After 30 years of working to challenge gender-based violence, I have come to believe that the violence we live with on a daily basis starts with the way in which violence is perpetrated and allowed in the home. This is the place where the first distinction between human beings gets made: between men and women. This is where the notion of “other” gets created. This is where the paradigm of one group of people (men) having power over another group of people (women) comes into existence. Boys grow up thinking that to be masculine means to be tough. Violence becomes a legitimate way to assert power and resolve conflict; this leads to intimate partner violence as a global pandemic.
Violence against children in the home is also a pandemic. If violence is allowed within the home, then I believe it is no accident that we then watch violence play itself out in gangs, on the streets, through terrorism, in the army, in wars, and in the multi-billion dollar arms trade. It’s all connected.
In our work to end violence against women, we often see intimate partner violence as a phenomenon between a couple. In reality, it is something that affects every aspect of how we come together as human beings and live together on this planet.
We already know that violence against women is a human rights issue. We know that it’s about women’s public and political participation and their ability to step into the economic system. I posit that it is actually more than that. Violence against women is at the core of the value system of how we live our lives, how we treat one another, how we treat other species, and how we treat the planet itself.
I understand that the work that I do to change the culture and norms that lead to violence against women is deeply connected to Rafael’s death. We must bring gender into the conversation if we are to dream a new world into being.